July 31, 2006

ICANN and Presumptive Renewal

I doubt that anybody on the internet, except those who hold stock in Verisign, thinks it a good thing that ICANN has given to Verisign the gift of "presumptive renewal" - in effect a guarantee of perpetual ownership - of .com.

(By-the-way, I voted against "presumptive renewal" when it came before ICANN the first time.)

The broad and overwhelming consensus of internet users is that presumptive renewal is a stupid idea.

So what does ICANN do with stupid ideas?  Hint - fixing 'em does not seem to be on ICANN's list of possible answers.

ICANN's answer:  Repetition of a mistake makes it not a mistake.  ICANN is proposing to repeat its presumptive renewal mistake in the Verisign contract by amending every contract, with every existing TLD operator, so that every contract contains its own presumptive renewall provision!

ICANN will, of course, answer that they are merely encouraging TLD operators to invest in themselves.

Do we really believe that these operators need "presumptive renewal" to give them the incentive to maintain the quality of their TLD businesses so that they can continue to attract and retain customers?  I'n certainly not about to drink any of that kind of Cool-Aid.

This presumptive renewall issue is the result of very fuzzy thinking on the part of ICANN.

Let's step back a moment and recognize that there are two distinct and severable aspects of gTLDs like .biz, .com, and .info:

First there is the right to have a name put into the root zone (with NS records of the operator's choice).

Second is the character string of the name itself.  This includes all of the "good will" that that string has accumulated.

I have long advocated that all that ICANN should be granting is "slots" - the right to put a name (and NS records) into the root zone.  The choice of the character string to bind to that slot should then be up to the operator.

ICANN has an obligation to ensure that the grantee of a "slot" uses that slot in ways that do not violate published and accepted internet standards.  ICANN could sanction, for example, an operator of a TLD who uses servers that do not follow the DNS RFC's or mis-construes the IP protocol

But ICANN ought to have no role with regard to the character string that the TLD operator uses, except to ensure that the name is not in conflict with the name used by another TLD operator.

Because ICANN mixes these two concepts, it is unclear whether the operator of the gTLD or ICANN owns the name.  For example who owns the string ".info", and the business "good will" that it has garnered?

Let's get back to presumptive renewal - By granting presumptive renewal rights ICANN eliminates the lever it has to coerce a TLD operator should that operator's behavior drift outside the bounds established by published and widely accepted internet standards.

In other words, presumptive renewal is a form of institutional self-emasculation.  The presumptive renewal clause in the existing ICANN-Verisign contract has almost completely immunized Verisign against anything that ICANN might say or do.

If we go back to the distinction between slots and names we can see a reasonable intermediate pathway:

ICANN can let a gTLD operator retain the rights to use and good will that have been accumulated by the name.  But ICANN would retain the rights to revoke the right to use the slot should a gTLD operator fail to behave according to the published and widely accepted internet standards.

Thus, if an operator failed to meet standards it might find itself with a name but without any entry in the root zone file - sort of like an airline that has failed to follow proper safety practices and as a consequence has lost the certificate that permits its aircraft to fly.

In such a case the operator would have to cure its ills and either petition ICANN for a new slot or sell its rights in the name.

Posted by karl at July 31, 2006 1:06 PM